I won’t lie to you. I have four pairs of long johns. One pair is blue, one pair is gray, two are camouflage-colored in case, you know, I have to flee into the deep jungle to escape the long-john police.

All of my long johns are tattered. The blue ones are torn up around the ankle band as if at one point I had to battle a snow leopard over possession of them, which in this weather is entirely possible.

The gray pair is pocked by gaping holes that look like bullet wounds. Maybe they are. Things get crazy when you run around in long johns.

Both camo pairs are in decent shape, but they’re also two sizes too small so that at several points throughout my day, you’ll find me stopping dead in my tracks on Park Street, a puzzled look upon my face. Exactly what is it that’s squeezing me down there?

Oh, right. Long johns, that hideous fashion accessory some of us wear like filthy secrets when the weather turns bitter and our very survival depends (which you should never wear under long johns) on how many layers of clothing we can squeeze into.

An interesting thing: I always figured long johns were named for the person who invented them, some freezing soul who, in a moment of desperation, squeezed into his lady’s pantyhose and named them “John” as a means of hanging on to the last shreds of his manhood.

But, nope. After an exhaustive search (one stop at Yahoo Answers) it appears that the long john was named after a bare-knuckle fighter out of Boston who used to enter the ring wearing long underwear instead of the traditional shorts. Undefeated was the pugilist John L. Sullivan, because every one of his opponents got to giggling so hard over his union suit that he or she would be entirely unable to defend him or herself against the fighter’s hilarious jabs and uppercuts.

“Bully!” John Sullivan would declare, dancing around the ring. “I’ve boxed your ear but good!”

Or something. You’d think having a brawler in the history of this cold-weather attire would lend it some masculinity, but nope. I don’t care if you’re a 7-foot lumberjack out of The County, when you squeeze into a pair of long johns you are transformed into an ambling, skinny-legged freak, like a cat who has fallen into the bathtub. You pull on jeans to hide this fact and the long johns just want to ride up your legs, so you have to tuck them into your socks or use a staple gun to secure them. Hot melt glue also works.

Because I like to ride my motorcycle in cold weather, I am forced to don the johns earlier in the season than most and I keep them on into late spring (I wash them several times throughout the winter, as far as you know). My shame is great. When I slip into a pair of thermal underwear in, say, mid-September, I feel like I’m violating some sacrosanct rule of manhood: choosing warmth over personal dignity.

I lock the doors and pull the blinds. I check and then re-check the house to make sure no one is home to witness the atrocity. I creep to my special long-john safe, hidden behind a photo of Jack London, and I remove them, burning with shame every inch of the way.

I light some candles. I put on soft music — Johnny Mathis, say, or Al Green.

But you know too much already. I’m wearing long johns as I write this (the camo ones, which is why I have that funny look on my face). Just reading the weather report (the newspaper finally broke down and started covering the weather after I begged them for years) makes me think that I might never take off my long johns. Suddenly, my shame seems a trivial thing. I wish there were such things as full-body long johns, or even ones big enough to engulf my entire house, like the throat of a snake around a scurrying field mouse.

Twenty-below-zero, they’re saying, with a wind chill that will slash through traditional winter-wear like a Ginsu knife through a tomato. And snow that will demand shoveling, so staying inside won’t be an option. Shrieking winds and biting cold are the two main enemies of the long john. Thank God I’m wearing the thermal armor. I hope you’re armored, as well.

Once, in a moment of desperation, I had no choice but to slip into a pair of my wife’s sheer, hot pink underwear. But that was in the middle of July and it really doesn’t pertain here, so I’ll just shut up.

You know too much already.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. If you have something brief to say about the boxer’s underwear, email Mark at [email protected]


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